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Are you cut out for a career in Law?
Navin Kumar
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February 19, 2008

Part II: Top law colleges and courses
Part III: Legal process outsourcing: The next big thing

Are you looking for a career that gives you a battlefield kind of adrenaline rush but without the risk of actually being shot at? A career in law might be your ticket.
Kinds of Law
Corporate Law: This branch deals with the legal entity known as the company. It has become one of the most lucrative of practices following the economic boom.

"I can sit at home and demand Rs 50k to draw up a single agreement," says Zafar Iqbal, an ex-IAS officer who has worked with companies like Tata House.

Every acquisition, merger, deal, public listing or de-listing requires dozens of lawyers working frantically to ensure that it goes smoothly and in accordance with the law. Corporate law requires individuals who are patient and have an eye for detail.

Criminal Law: Certainly the most glamorous of all legal practices, it is also one of the demanding. It deals with those cases in which a person has broken the law in a manner which is deemed criminal allowing the state to initiate procedures against him.

"You need a special mind for criminal law," says Iqbal, "You have to be analytical and be one step ahead of the opponent. You have to ask questions that nobody else can think of: why did he do what he did? Why did he not do what he did not do?"

It is, however, one of the most lucrative. One can easily charge Rs 50,000 for a single bail application. It's not for everyone though. "It means getting your hands dirty," says Amrita Shah, "Money exchanges hands at several levels. Not all have the stomach for this kind of work and certainly women find it next to impossible."

Civil Law: This branch deals with property transactions, wills, trusts, torts etc.

Family Law: Also known as marital law, this is the branch that deals with marriage, divorce, adoption, custody etc.

What does a career in law involve?
Very little of modern legal work has anything to do with court. Much of corporate and civil law is paperwork -- drafting agreements, contracts, wills etc. Many firms specialise in this documentation and hire litigators only on a fee basis. If you join a company's legal department, it's very unlikely that you'll ever see the inside of a courthouse.

Being a trial lawyer is also much simpler nowadays due to the internet. While lawyers had to previously pour through huge legal books looking for precedents, there are now many websites that one can subscribe to which will give you a citation in a matter of seconds.  

One of the major public myths is that all lawyers lie. "All lawyers are not liars and all liars are not lawyers," insists Iqbal, "Law is the art of presenting the facts of the case." It's how persuasive your point of view is rather than what facts you present.

He recounts a defamation case where he argued for the plaintiff in a moot court and won. He then took the defendants' side in another moot court -- and won again!

A person may start his legal career as an assistant to a more experienced lawyer making drafts and doing routine research and paperwork leaving the senior to come up with arguments and appear in court.

Places to work
A company: Many of the larger companies like Tata, HLL [Get Quote], ICICI [Get Quote] etc now hire lawyers straight out of college. They even visit the better law schools and hire people on campus.

With a practicing lawyer: One may become the 'junior' of an established lawyer and handle the smaller jobs for him. This period lasts for 4-5 years after which one has, in theory, the required knowledge, skills and contacts required to go into practice on one's own.

At a law firm: Law firms are essentially made of partners who bring in the clients and also get a share of the profits. In
India, the number of partners is limited to 20. It is very hard for a lawyer to make partner in India since few partners retire and even then, pass on their partnership to their children.
While older and more experienced lawyers can make a lot of money very easily, it's quite difficult for those starting out, although things are much better now than they used to be.

Previously, the junior lawyer would be paid nothing for his work and would even have to pay for his own tea and conveyance. Nowadays, however, even assistants are paid a fixed Rs 5,000 or so per month, so starvation is unlikely.

Some companies hiring candidates straight out of college will pay as much as Rs 7 lakh pa. But these are only the best students from the top colleges.

While you still have to work 12-14 hours a day at law firms for very little, things are starting to get better. Some firms agree to share, with the fresher, 2 per cent of the business that they work on.

Some of the bigger firms like Amarchand Mangaldas offer as much as Rs 7-10 lakh with bonuses etc to the top students in places from colleges like NLS.

On average, a fresher makes about Rs 8,000 per month. If he/she has passed the difficult solicitor exam, he/she may start off with as much as Rs 15,000 per month.

Lawyers started wearing long black robes in 1707 when Queen Anne finally gave them a charter recognising them as professionals. This was her very last act before her death and the entire profession went into mourning in memory of their queen and wore black robes, a tradition which they keep till today.

Part II: Top law colleges and courses
Part III: Legal process outsourcing: The next big thing

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